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【Interview】Interview with Noritaka Tatehana

Noritaka Tatehana's shoes (heel-less shoes), inspired by the geta (wooden clogs) worn by oiran (courtesans), captivated Lady Gaga. About 10 years later, amidst Mr. Tatehana's exhibition, "It's always the others who die", our CEO Konoe who is also a member of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, interviewed Mr. Tatehana. The interview proceeded with a focus on "traditional culture," a common denominator between the two.

Journey until Artist Noritaka Tatehana was Born


Konoe:I saw your exhibition and honestly did not expect to see such a wide variety of displays. I was particularly surprised by the flat works. In addition to being purely interesting as graphics, they had a unique sense of thickness, or rather, massiveness that was amazing. I really enjoyed the them.

Tatehana:Thank you. Basically, I do all of my work right here in my studio.

Konoe:Wow... You graduated from Tokyo University of the Arts, Department of Crafts, but did you always want to pursue a career in crafts?

Tatehana:At first, I wanted to pursue a career in fashion design and thought about studying abroad. However, in order to be globally active, I thought that learning about Japanese culture, which is also my identity, would be crucial. Therefore, I majored in "Dyeing and Weaving" at Tokyo University of the Arts in order to study Japanese traditions relative to fashion, or "Kimono".

Left curioswitch Creative Director Konoe Right Noritaka Tatehana

Konoe:You studied "tradition" at the University of the Arts.

Tatehana:Yes, I attended the school to learn traditional techniques. However, I did not want to become a kimono designer. I spent the four years wanting to either start a fashion brand or study abroad. And when I sold my graduation work to the world, I immediately got a job with Lady Gaga.

Tatehana:I strongly believe that unless the style and format of traditional culture is renewed to fit the times, it is just a form of revival. Therefore, I do not think it is necessarily favored to use the traditional format regarding "kimono" as it was in the past. Even for heel-less shoes, the format is "shoes". They are not clogs. That is important. Regarding modernism and the rapid cultural shift, it is important to determine what Japan can present to the world without denying its traditions.

Konoe:I agree. Japanese culture has a story to tell. For example, Japanese kimonos are not sewn to fit the lines of the body. It is not a three-dimensional form, but is made in two dimensions, remaining flat. Moreover, they are constructed almost entirely based on the width of the kimono, so when folded, they become flat as the width of the original kimono. Issey Miyake's "Pleats Please" is also made from a single piece of cloth, and the kimono-like idea of being able to fold it compactly has penetrated the world in the context of fashion. From the context of traditional crafts, a modern story was created.

Tatehana:That reminds me of the public's reaction when I announced heel-less shoes. The foreign media asked me in-depth questions after researching the relevant context. On the other hand, the Japanese fashion media, who should be able gain detailed information from my profile would always ask questions such as, "Where did you get the inspiration for this?" I felt that the culture part was being neglected and only the information part was demanded. It is important to comprehend the cultural background and how it extended to what it is now.

Discussing the difficulties of conveying traditional culture to the modern world

Konoe:Exactly. However, it is also difficult to keep "tradition" from becoming a stumbling block. Many families with a long history or inheritors of traditional culture and performing arts suffer from the inability to deny "tradition". Fortunately, my parents raised me freely, so I myself am not under that spell. Thanks to them, I was able to enter the Department of Imaging Arts at Musashino Art University. However, I am still not entirely free from the traditional culture. I am involved in the "Utakai Hajime" held at the Imperial Palace every January, and to be honest, at first I thought it was an excessively formal and challenging world to fit in. I had a hard time learning the movements of the poets. One day, however, it became clear to me that this was an event for national branding in a broad sense. I thought that our ancestors in the Heian period were also branding how to create a national image by appealing to people inside and outside the country that sublime literature existed in this country through poetry festivals and other events. The Emperor is not my client, but I am in the field of events in the service of His Majesty. Essentially, I think it has always been this way and will remain as such. In such a situation, junior high school students and teenagers recite poems in modern language, and I am the one who voices them out, so the "Utakai Hajime" is actually a very interesting event.

Tatehana:So tradition and innovation, past and present, coexist.


Konoe:The Tokyo Metropolitan Government's "Edo Tokyo Kirari Project," in which Mr. Tatehana and I are involved in, is a project to refine the traditions and products of long-established stores in Tokyo from a new perspective. We also strive to communicate their values to people around the world as a brand representing Tokyo, with the aim of further increasing inbound tourism and passing on traditions.

The Edo Tokyo Kirari exhibition in Paris

Konoe:What are your thoughts as you enter your third year? Personally, I think it is becoming more difficult to reach a consensus because of the wide range of candidate projects.

Tatehana:But we are off to a good start.

Konoe:Yes we are. Speaking of, it will be a tailwind for the "Edo Tokyo Kirari Project" that Kyogen performer Mansai Nomura has been appointed to oversee the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. This is a bit off topic, but speaking of the Olympics, France has entrusted the opening and closing ceremonies in Albertville to a director named Ducoufle. Decoufle was appointed at the age of 28, and three years later, in 1992, Albertville went into production. It is amazing to put a 28 year old responsible for the Olympics.

Tatehana:I agree. But it is very important for people with avant-garde ideas to be decision makers and leaders.

Konoe:In Europe, after all, once the art director is chosen, that person has absolute authority. He or she takes full responsibility. In Japan, however, it is very difficult to do so.

Tatehana:Very true. Jacques Lang, who renovated the Louvre, was also a politician, but he was extremely preserved. He started by excavating the basement of the Louvre, took the Treasury move out of the palace, and transformed the entire palace into a huge museum, Le Grand Louvre. New land was acquired and built for the Treasury. The major renovation took 20 years. I had them come to a symposium I held at the University of the Arts in 2018, and it was still a great crowd. He is very kind to artists. He is very supportive. They are very open to starting something new. I was impressed by the French policy as a country.

The Louvre revived over 20 years

Principle of Expression


Konoe:As you generate new creations that adapt traditional cultural formats to the times, is there something you would like to express in the future? Although your main focus is fashion, do you plan to do art in parallel?

Tatehana:At first I only considered the field of fashion. But it only lasted for about two years after graduating from college, when I worked for Lady Gaga. Since then, I have tried to diversify my expression in various formats, not limited to shoes. What I want to convey is the same. How to create the current Japanese culture as an extension of the ancient Japanese culture. Whether it is shoes, sculptures, or paintings, I don't feel it is a hurdle for me. Of course, I have to make it work as a business. But it is easier to operate in the big picture, such as a format rather than art. For example, when I did the Bunraku performance at the Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain in 2016, I was the art director like you, and we worked as a team.

Tatehana:When we hold an exhibition, we usually work as a team of about 20 people, and it is the same with bunraku performances. Even if it is your first time, you can do it if you all work together in the same direction. We are truly blessed to have an environment in which various organizations, such as the Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain, allow us to do things for the first time on a big stage.

The interview proceeds peacefully, interspersed with small talks.

Don't make something that is judged by modern standards.


Konoe:What is the ultimate life's work for you, Mr. Tatehana?

Tatehana:Hmm... I still think it is important to keep up with societal change. I am currently 34 years old, and I don't know when I will die, but society will continue to change endlessly, and the best thing to do is to adapt to them. As an artist, there is no such thing as completion when you have created something like this. For example, I have no desire to create a national treasure or anything like that. It is not new if I make something that is judged by today's standards. The main premise is to create new values.

Konoe:So, the idea of expression as an artist is at the center of your work.

Tatehana:Yes. That is the basic premise of Bunraku and Noh, for example, and I think it would be great if we could create something new and innovative by working closely with traditional industries and traditional performing arts.

Konoe:I wish you the best.

Tatehana:Same to you.

Konoe:Anyway, we must continue to steer toward our dreams.

After the interview, Mr. Tatehana and Konoe continued to talk about traditional culture. We invite you to experience Tatehana's latest work, which continues to change and evolve, with your own eyes.

(※Exhibition "It's always the others who die" ended on 12/22/2019

POLA Museum Anex(Until 12/22/19)





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